Lakeland Plans Stormwater Fee Hike; Anyone Else?

The Lakeland City Commission on Monday will consider a 60 percent increase in its stormwater fee over the next four years to deal with the increased costs of complying with federal pollution regulations to fund pollution-control projects to aid lakes within the city.

It will be worth noting whether any other local jurisdiction with substantial lake-improvement needs—primarily Winter Haven and Polk County—will consider any increases as they consider next year’s budget.

The only tax increase that has been discussed so far for the County Commission involves plans to fund the backlog of growth-related road projects that were unfunded during the impact fee moratorium.

The Ledger reports there are plans to fund preliminary work on the widening of Lake Wilson Road and a portion of Cypress Parkway around Solivita, an upscale community adjacent to Poinciana by diverting $30 million from a fund that was supposed to provide the county’s share of the cost of building the second phase of the Bartow Northern Connector, a truck bypass around Bartow for which Polk had finally obtained funding in next year’s state budget and which escaped Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen.

There have been no reports so far of any plans by Winter Haven officials to increase the city’s stormwater fee.


Cabinet OKs Area Conservation Easement

This week Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet agreed to spent $9.8 million to purchase a 6,071-acre conservation easement in portions of Hardee and Polk counties to protect another part of a regional habitat corridor in the Peace River Basin.

The property owned by Crews Groves contains 3,826 acres of uplands and 2,245 acres of wetlands around Old Town Creek, which flows toward Charlie Creek, a tributary of the Peace River.

The property contains cutthroat grass, gopher tortoises, pygmy fringe tree and Florida scrub lizard.

It is adjacent or near to existing public and private conservation lands, including The Nature Conservancy’s Saddle Blanket Scrub.

Rain Raises Peace; Arbuckle Parking Ban

The steady rain this month has finally raised the level and flow in the Upper Peace River to the point where it may be navigable again, according to provisional figures posted on the USGS Realtime Streamflow site.

It’s a good idea to check conditions downstream for obstructions.

In other paddling news, the County Commission is scheduled to take action Tuesday to ban parking at the Reedy/Livingston Creek bridge on Rucks Dairy Road in Lake Wales Ridge State Forest’s Arbuckle Unit.

There will continue to be legal parking nearby.

Water Wise Expo Saturday in Polk City

If you want to learn more about how to use water wisely head to Polk City Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Donald Bronson Center, 124 Bronson Trail.

It’s perhaps fitting to have a Water Wise Expo in Polk City, since it lies in the Green Swamp, Central Florida’s Liquid Heart, the high point in the Floridan aquifer.

The free expo will feature information on water conservation, landscaping, hurricane preparedness, Zika and the Green Swamp itself.

Although there has been some rain lately and the county burn ban is being lifted, the drought is really not over.

Hazards Of Living On Mined Lands Debate Heats Up

At the heart of a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year against the developer of a couple of upscale Lakeland residential communities is whether living on reclaimed phosphate mines is hazardous to residents’ health because of radiation emissions.

The latest chapter in this debate played out this week at a public meeting in Lakeland in which residents were reassured by scientists and technical experts from the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Industrial & Phosphate Institute that the radiation hazard was practically non-existent.

The firm that filed the lawsuit and the plaintiffs in the case see things differently, relying on a paper trail stretching back to the 1970s that appears to demonstrate health and environmental officials raised concerns when these developments were being reclaimed and undergoing development review.

Interestingly, the main potential health issue that was raised at the time in press reports was the presence of an old city dump. That facility dated from the days when there was little regulation on what kinds of waste could be dumped and there was no thought of installing liners as there are in modern landfills to protect groundwater.

How this lawsuit will play out is a matter for the judge and the jury– if it gets that far–to decide.

Another lawsuit that made similar claims regarding developments in the Bartow area was filed in the state court system decades ago. It was dismissed.

If this suit is not dismissed, the implications are interesting.

There are many residential developments all over western Polk County where residents potentially face the same health threat—if one can be established—and could be the focus of additional lawsuits.

This has regional implications as well.

As mining continues to expand in other Florida counties, the potential effect on the health of residents living in future developments that would occur after mining and reclamation have occurred is an issue that is difficult to ignore until the claims in the current lawsuit are resolved.

There are related economic issues, including the impact of any verified claims on real estate values and, by extension, on the local tax roll. The impacts are unknown at this point.

Stay tuned.




Legislature’s inaction on Amendment 1 becomes election issue

The Florida Legislature’s unwillingness to implement the constitutional amendment Florida voters approved in 2014 to restart the Florida Forever program is becoming a local election issue.

The Ledger reports that retired judge Bob Doyel has announced he will run against incumbent Kelli Stargel for the Florida Senate.

Doyel specifically criticized Stargel and her fellow legislators for ignoring the will of the voters on Amendment 1 and other citizen mandates.

The election is not until next year when some legislators promise to move forward with Amendment 1—four years after the original referendum—but making this and other shortcomings of our so-called representatives a campaign issue cannot hurt the effort.

NWS: Spring 2017 One Of Driest

We didn’t break any records, but it was one of the driest springs on record in Polk, according to preliminary figures compiled by the National Weather Service.

Lakeland rainfall was 315 inches. The record was 2.28 inches in 1945. Normal rainfall is 9.92 inches.

Winter Haven rainfall was 1.92 inches. The record was 1.61 inches in 2000. Normal rainfall is 8.95 inches.

Bartow rainfall was 3.09 inches The record was 2.34 inches in 1908. Normal rainfall is 8.99 inches.

Polk and surrounding counties are still under a mandatory burn ban because of the wildfire danger and under increased watering restrictions because of the stress on water supplies.